Coming home to Savannah to build on my family’s legacy of philanthropy
How are we as philanthropists, community builders and preservationists of history meant to keep small communities growing if we aren’t, in fact, present?
I left Savannah, Ga., at 18 to explore the world. I didn’t know my journey would take me to Wisconsin, Israel, California and then Maryland. And I was pretty sure I would never return “home.”
On Aug. 10, 2022, I turned 40 and celebrated my birthday with family and lifelong friends creating a newly-formed social community in Savannah, home to the second oldest synagogue in the country. It was a homecoming, bringing my husband and children with me.
My husband and I had promising careers, family, friends and community in Baltimore. Life was good. The choice to move and uproot your life, your comforts and all that is familiar, is most definitely scary, refreshing and a profound challenge. I have come to learn that changing your life is a state of mind (and a privilege).
I wanted to make an even greater impact on Savannah than I had in Baltimore. In recent years, when I came back home for visits, I would see my parents’ and grandparents faces on the walls of Jewish institutions (starting to look right back at me), and funds designated via the Savannah Jewish Federation in my grandparents’ names — it got me thinking: how can I carry on my family’s name and legacy in Savannah as a philanthropist, lay leader, community organizer and change maker if I am not, in fact, in Savannah?
Philanthropy is so much more than giving away the money you have. As a professional fundraiser, Jewish educator and striving philanthropist, now in a small town, I realize that, when it comes to impact, giving and doing carry equal weight. How are we as philanthropists, community builders and preservationists of history meant to keep small communities growing if we aren’t, in fact, present?
Since our move, so many people I grew up with who aren’t living in Savannah have said, “I would love to come home, I just can’t, my job, you know? I just can’t, there isn’t a Jewish high school” — although there is an amazing Jewish day school through eighth grade, Rambam Day School. I get it, believe me, but I would rather be a small-time philanthropist who made a big-time change, if it means I could be sitting at my parents’ table in the city where I grew up.
A few months ago, I attended a Hadassah event with my mother (both of us being lifelong members); we learned different techniques for braiding challah, and I sat with her at her table. One day, I hope to leave a legacy to my son and daughter that includes the values of philanthropy, and I am proud of our decision to come home.
My family moved to Savannah for various reasons. Now that we have been here for eight months, I know that I moved with an intrinsic desire to help preserve, enrich and continue the deep community others have spent so much heart, hands and time creating. The inherent drive for the next generation to inherit their legacy and become leaders might be as urgent in big cities, but in small towns, there aren’t as many potential leaders to call upon.
In early September, I was installed into the Savannah Jewish Federation board. The annual report mentions my grandparents, my parents and their philanthropy. What an emotional and humbling moment to be reminded that my homecoming would continue their vision for the Savannah Jewish community.
A fundraiser by day — ask me about Repair the World — and a philanthropist and lay leader in my hometown of Savannah by night, I am humbled to be back and happy to know I get to sit at my mother and father’s table, where the doors are always open and everyone is welcome.
Lisa Bodziner is proud to live in Savannah with her husband, children and parents. She is a Jewish educator and artist, community connector and builder, and jewelry maker. She is currently the southeast development director for Repair the World.